Seeing Past the Heavens at the Griffith Park Observatory
You’ve lived in Los Angeles for the majority of your life and yet you’ve never been to the Griffith Observatory. It’s too touristy, it’s too far, and it’s probably overrated. You’ve thought of every excuse in the book to justify why you shouldn’t visit. So on your date nights with Jave, you stick to your West L.A. bubble because it’s easy, it’s convenient, and it’s familiar.
But tonight, there aren’t any good movies playing at the theatre you frequent for $7 Tuesdays, and a dinner only date sounds like a bore. Plus, you’re tired of hearing about places in your city that you should’ve explored long ago.
So you guys decide to brave the journey that will take you a little over an hour at the height of rush hour so that you can escape your dating rut while ticking this experience off of your list.
En route, you feel frustrated because the 10-E feels more like a parking lot than a freeway. Your conversation with Jave is interrupted by screeching tires and the smell of burnt rubber of a zoned-out driver who’s slammed on his breaks to prevent himself from ramming into the back of your car.
“I hate L.A. with all of my heart,” you tell Jave, anxiously hoping that you’ll make it to the observatory in time to see the sun set.
“Well I love this city, Carmel,” Jave replies in his thick Jamaican accent. What does he know? He’s only been living here for the past five years. You, on the other hand, have been enduring the smog, the crowds, the dwindling green space, and the pollution for the majority of your life. So what if you were born in this city?! You have every right to hate it. You’ve paid your dues.
About forty-five minutes later as you make your way alongside Los Feliz near the entrance to Griffith Park, you spot the observatory on the hillside in the distance. And though you’ve resisted this visit, a spark ignites inside of you – the same spark you feel whenever you travel to someplace foreign. You’re curious and yearning to learn something new. You’re hungry to explore.
As you drive up the winding hill, you’re relieved that you’ll arrive just in time for sunset. But the closer you get to the observatory, the more cars you start to see. Angelenos. What are they doing here?! It’s a Tuesday night!
You look for parking along the roadside, but spaces are few and far between. Jave suggests trying the parking lot, but it’s a no go. You head back out and down the hill a bit before finally finding a space.
Walking towards the observatory, you’re pretty amazed by the views – the Hollywood sign, downtown, Century City towards home in the west.
While there’s chatter amongst your fellow observatory-goers, for the most part, you realize how quiet it is up here.
Minutes ago you were inching through traffic and trying to ignore the throbbing in your head caused by the honking horns and sirens. But up here, there is peace. And quiet.
You grab Jave’s hand, and you walk inside.
When you enter, a docent is explaining the meaning behind a gently swinging pendulum – something about the Earth’s rotation that causes pegs to rotate in the path of the pendulum resulting in a peg being knocked down every seven minutes. You hear the docent speaking, but you’re not listening.
You’re distracted by a mural depicting early astronomers. You wonder what led them to start studying the world beyond our atmosphere. Was it religion, the changing seasons, the tide?
You move on to other exhibits.
“Are you reading the placards?” you ask Jave, noticing that he’s whizzing past each exhibit and rushing you to move on to the next. “When we have kids and you take them to museums, you’re going to have to make sure that they’re actually reading and learning. But if you’re not, they won’t either,” you criticize, speaking of your children who have yet to be conceived.
“I know, Carmel. I will teach them,” Jave defends sheepishly. But truthfully, you’re not really reading the placards either.
You guys make your way to an exhibit about the seasons – about how the Earth rotates on an axis and how some parts of the planet are shielded from the sun’s rays more frequently during certain parts of the year than others, and vice versa.
“You see how God has everything in divine order,” you say, thinking about how the sun rises and sets. “It reminds me of me and my parents’ sunrise visit to Haleakala in Maui,” you continue. “As the sun was rising in front of us, it appeared that the moon was disappearing behind us. And at that moment, my mom said, ‘God has everything in order. Man can’t figure Him out.’” Jave remembers this story. You’ve shared it with him before.
“I want to see the big telescope,” you say. And as you step outside to make your way there, you’re taken aback by the view before you. The vastness of this city and its many lights are usually such a turn off. But tonight, from this viewpoint, these lights are beautiful. Tonight, your city is inspiring.
As Jave holds your place in the slow-moving line for entrance to take a look through the big telescope, you can’t stop taking pictures. And you can’t make sense of all of your excuses for not coming up here sooner.
Joining the line, you patiently wait for your turn to get a view of space. You laugh to yourself recalling Jave’s first views into L.A.’s nighttime sky – how he mistook airplanes in queue for landing for twinkling stars. Why would he ever leave his beautiful island where an abundance of stars can be seen right from his own backyard? I know he made this move to be with me, but he left paradise behind in the process! Your thoughts are interrupted as a docent’s explanation about what you can expect to see through the telescope comes within earshot.
You’re next, and the guy in front of you is taking a particularly long time looking through the telescope. What does he see? Whatever it is, I’m about to see it too! You’re excited for this rare chance to take a glimpse into space. But when your turn comes and you peer through the scope, you just see a big, swirling cluster of stars. They’re dull and not twinkling. They almost look fake. You’re underwhelmed.
After Jave has taken his turn and you guys begin to make your way out, you tell him that although you’re impressed with the observatory, you’re disappointed by the view into space. He agrees. Your glimpse into the heavens didn’t turn out as expected, but you remind yourself that you didn’t really come here to see the heavens anyway.
“I’m proud of us,” you tell Jave as you guys make your way past the parking lot to your car. Perhaps he thinks you’re referring to your date night and the effort you’ve made to explore this place together. But you know the “us” you’re really referring to – Angelenos. The ones you were so annoyed to see when you first arrived at the observatory. But now, you’re just grateful. Because we did explore this place together.
This post is a part of Date Nights L.A. – a new series that I’ll be featuring on the blog wherein I’ll highlight local points of interest that Jave and I explore during some of our weekly date nights. In any relationship, it’s important to keep things fresh, and the same is true of my relationship with Los Angeles – my home, my friend, my nemesis, my love. So here’s to gaining a new, fresh perspective of L.A.!
*Visit the Griffith Observatory’s website for details on planning your visit.
Have you been to an observatory?